Today is Donnellan’s last day as the top executive in Arlington County government, before her retirement, which was announced in March.
Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz will serve as acting county manager while the county continues to conduct a nationwide search for Donnellan’s permanent replacement.
Donnellan sent the following goodbye memo to county staff this afternoon, after spending much of the morning walking around county government headquarters and saying goodbye to staffers in person.
Friends: I could not leave today without thanking you all for your hard work and your many contributions that have helped make Arlington a great community.
How quickly thirty-one-and-a-half years have flown by. It has been an amazing ride. Together, we have accomplished so much. For me, the most satisfying aspect of this job has been the opportunity to come to work each day and interact with such a talented group of people. But all great things must come to an end.
Tomorrow, I start a new chapter, and I’m looking forward to exploring new opportunities. Under Mark Schwartz’s able leadership, I know that you will continue to do great things.
Again, thank you for everything. It has been such a privilege.
All the best,
Also bidding adieu is Artisphere, which is set to permanently close its doors after today.
The staff of the cultural center in Rosslyn sounded a proud, defiant note in a goodbye message sent to its email list this afternoon. That note is below, after the jump.
A minor parking mishap attracted a crowd of restaurant owners in Courthouse yesterday.
Just before lunchtime, the “KBBQ Taco Box 2″ food truck accidentally struck the front bumper of a parked car on the 2000 block of Wilson Blvd, as the truck was trying to squeeze into a tight parallel parking space. There was no damage evident — but police were called and a citation issued, as a small crowd of restaurant owners and mangers gathered.
As it turns out, the car belonged to a delivery driver for the Afghan Kabob House across the street, and this was the latest skirmish in an ongoing battle between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks in Courthouse.
The war started last month with the emergence of an unlikely leader on the restaurant side. Bar Concepts, a restaurant consulting company, had been brought in to operate the back bar area of the recently reopened Summers Restaurant. Though Summers is not exactly known as a haven for Courthouse office dwellers seeking a quick grab-and-go bite to eat, Alan Beal, COO of Bar Concepts, zeroed in on food trucks — at least those that parked along Wilson and Clarendon Blvds — as the enemy of local restaurants.
Beal swiftly organized a coalition of about a dozen Courthouse area restaurants who say that the trucks “are running amok” and having “a serious impact on these brick and mortar restaurants” by parking directly in front of their establishments. The collective effort was on display Thursday as owners took turns complaining about parking enforcement to police.
Food trucks, they said, were reserving precious street parking spots in front of restaurants by having workers park cars on the street as early as 6:00 a.m. Some weren’t even feeding the meter, they said.
There’s nothing illegal about reserving street parking spaces in such a manner, the cops said, though they did encourage the owners to call when they did spot a violation like an expired meter. There is also a two hour limit on parking, which is enforced, but there’s a loophole: trucks can simply pull into into another open space after two hours, provided it’s at least 25 feet away from their existing parking space.
With little recourse other than calling in the meter maids, the owners seemed to agree to double down on an unofficial group tactic: encouraging employees to park on the street, thus taking away available parking spaces from the trucks. One owner could be heard telling several employees to be sure to park on the street during their shifts. Another ran across the busy four-lane road when a spot opened up, driving his Mercedes from a small private lot behind his restaurant, making a U-turn and pulling into the open spot, thus boxing out the food truck hoard.
Beal — who was in D.C. during the fender bender fracas — insists that he doesn’t oppose food trucks, only their parking choices. He said trucks park directly in front of businesses, billowing smoke, creating crowds that block the sidewalk and taking away customers. He has been documenting the woes on a YouTube channel.
“No one opposes food trucks, they’re good for consumers and good for the economy,” he said via phone. “The problem is where they’re parked.”
Purposely blocking parking spots, for hours on end, only hurts restaurants by keeping the spots from potential customers, according to Beal. “It is kind of unethical,” he said of food trucks, or anyone else for that matter, reserving street parking spots for commercial gain.
Beal said he has been having constructive conversations with the county about solutions that could work for both restaurants and food trucks. That potential solution — which had until then not been revealed to the media — is creating and enforcing specific areas for food trucks to park in a given area.
Cara O’Donnell, spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development, said the county is hoping to implement a “street vending zone” pilot program in Rosslyn within a few weeks.
The county’s Real Estate Bureau recently sent letters to home owners on N. Lincoln Street and 8th Street N., offering to buy homes for a “fair market value.”
“The County would be interested in purchasing your property for incorporation into the nearby Maury and Milliken parks,” the letter said. “If you are interested in selling your property, either now or in the future, please let me know as we would like to have the opportunity to make you an offer before the property is listed for sale with a real estate agent.”
“The benefits of selling the house directly to the County are that the house could be sold in ‘as is’ condition, without the necessity of making any repairs, at a time convenient for you, and without the payment of a sales commission, which would save you a significant amount of money,” the letter continues.
One property on the block — an immaculate 5 BR, 4.5 BA Colonial — is currently on the market for $1.75 million. “This home shows the pride of ownership,” the real estate listing says.
A homeowner on the block says he’s not sure the expense the county would have to go to in order to acquire the properties is worth it.
“I find the whole thing to be fiscally outrageous. I love my house and have made a massive investment in building the house where I want to raise my family in the neighborhood where I want to raise my family,” he said. “There is already a park there that hardly seems overused… it is unclear to me why the county is so hot to trot to spend $7-10 million of taxpayer money to build a park so close to Quincy [Park] and so many others.”
A county spokeswoman said the expansion of Maury Park — located next to the Arlington Arts Center and described as a “quaint one-acre park equipped with two tennis courts and an amazing play sculpture” — has been the goal of two County Board-adopted policies, the Public Spaces Master Plan and the Virginia Square Sector Plan, as well as the Ashton Heights Neighborhood Conservation Plan.
“The plan is to expand active and passive recreation,” said Arlington County Media Relations Manager Mary Curtius. “Up until the 2000’s, when the Maury Arts Center building and parking lot were expanded, the surrounding park included a popular playground and basketball court. Both had to be removed to make way for the expansion of the Arts Center.”
“The County has acquired two key parcels over the last decade, a single family home on N. Lincoln Street and a commercial property on Wilson Boulevard,” Curtius continued. “A park master plan will be developed in the future to address the new parcels that are being acquired over time as well as the joining of Maury and the adjacent smaller Herselle Milliken park.”
Artisphere hosted its final performances this past weekend, as it prepares to close for good at the end of the month. Supporters decry the closure as the county government prioritizing penny pinching over the arts. But Artisphere’s financial losses may have been secondary to another problem: lack of community engagement.
The cultural center in Rosslyn spent more than $1 million on marketing over four and a half years, largely targeting D.C. area arts aficionados with newspaper ads. The strategy paid off with sold-out niche concerts and events, but failed to attract the loyalty of many Arlington residents who have a more casual appreciation for the arts.
Instead of the original vision of a hub for local arts groups and a community hangout, complete with a WiFi cafe, Artisphere became more of a regional draw for one-off performances. Some 75 percent of its audience came from outside Arlington and 83 percent of its artists from outside Virginia, according to a 2014 report.
After hastily opening on the novelty date of 10/10/10, before an executive director or a marketing director could even be hired, Artisphere’s finances proved to be a fiasco. Wildly over-optimistic expectations gave way to the realization that the center would only make a quarter of its projected visitor revenue in the first year. That, in turn, sparked community criticism, set off backtracking by policymakers and led to a series of changes that watered down community participation.
It didn’t help that Artisphere’s multitude of performance venues were small and, as officials figured out after opening, couldn’t host simultaneous events due to noise bleed.
The relative lack of participation from taxpaying Arlington residents and artists, in the end, may have been Artisphere’s biggest downfall. When Artisphere hit the chopping block, few residents showed up at County Board meetings to speak in its defense.
“That’s exactly part of the issue,” said retiring Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan, in a May interview. “At some levels, it wasn’t reaching our community in such a way that won their support.”
Donnellan and the County Board faced criticism in the local arts world for the decision, with letters to the editor, the chair of the Arlington Commission for the Arts and even a Washington City Paper cover story implying that the Board was naive in closing Artisphere just because it was losing money.
“Artisphere’s closure is symptomatic of a much larger political view of culture in which the arts are important to community building, but funding them is not,” the City Paper wrote. It along with the Washington Post were the beneficiaries of 55 percent of Artisphere’s marketing budget.
But there was more that went into the decision to close than just dollars and cents. Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes said Artisphere was “able to create some wonderful shows” after “‘we got some of the right programming people in place,” but “there was a struggle in terms of what type of place [Artisphere] was going to be.”
“Within our Cultural Affairs department there was a real desire to be cutting edge and to fill a niche they perceived in the D.C. arts scene,” Hynes said. “So people on the way up” were booked, but “those are people who who are developing an audience, not those who have an audience.”
There was discussion of hosting “community Saturdays” — with performances from school groups and other community-driven activities — “where we get people familiar with coming here because their kid is performing here.”
“But that didn’t fit with the image of what people thought of as [Artisphere],” Hynes said. “So I do think that audience was pretty constrained in terms of all of Arlington.”
“In the end we collectively didn’t see as much of an opportunity for full community participation here than we see in some other things we do,” Hynes said of the decision to close Artisphere and send about half of its budget back into other arts programming around Arlington. “When a locality is putting its tax money into helping the production of art, we have some obligation to consider how we give as many people in our community as possible the opportunity to consume good art.”
The hotline was announced today by outgoing Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan. It will be run by an “experienced third-party provider” and will be “a confidential and secure way” to report suspected financial malfeasance, via phone or a secure website, the county said today.
Employees calling in or logging on to the 24/7 hotline may include their name or remain anonymous when reporting.
“By putting in place whistleblower protection and a fraud, waste, and abuse hotline, we are reinforcing County government’s deep commitment to good and ethical government,” Donnellan said in a press release.
The press release says the hotline is “part of the emphasis [Donnellan] has placed on high ethical standards during her tenure as County Manager.” Each report will be reviewed by a “County Review Committee, composed of staff appointed by the County Manager.”
Employees who do identify themselves in their reports will be protected by a new administrative whistleblower policy, the county said.
Survey Says: Resident Satisfaction High — Resident satisfaction with Arlington County is high, according to Arlington County. The county’s fourth Resident Satisfaction Survey, conducted by an outside research firm, suggested an 89 percent overall satisfaction rate with the quality of county services. “Just two percent of residents were dissatisfied with the overall quality of County services,” said a press release. One notable area for improvement: maintenance of county streets, with a satisfaction level of only 42 percent. [Arlington County]
Peak Memorial Day Traffic Expected Thursday — Contrary to conventional wisdom, the worst Memorial Day holiday traffic in the D.C. area will be Thursday evening, not Friday. According to an analysis of average travel speeds, drivers hoping to escape local holiday traffic should leave at night, around lunchtime Wednesday or Thursday, or Friday morning. [Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments]
Split Board Approves Reeves Farmhouse Sale — The Arlington County Board voted 3-2 last night to sell the historic Reeves farmhouse. “The County worked with the community for six years to find a way to retain public ownership of the house, or to create a public-private partnership to restore the house and open it to the public, but we were unable to achieve such a partnership, and the cost of restoring the property and bringing it up to code for public use was prohibitively expensive,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. Much of the land around the house will remain publicly-owned. [Arlington County]
County to Outsource Volunteer Program — The County Board also last night voted 3-2 to outsource Volunteer Arlington, the county’s volunteer management program. The county will now seek a nonprofit with which to form a public-private partnership. [Arlington County]
Shirlington Movie Theater to Renovate — The AMC Lowes Shirlington 7 movie theater will be undergoing a “complete renovation” this year, starting as soon as July. The theater will be getting reclining leather seats, like the AMC theater in Courthouse, plus a new concession area with beer and wine and new bathrooms. [Washington Business Journal]
Downed Trees, Wires in Arlington — On Sunday morning a tree fell on Old Dominion Drive, bringing wires down with it, causing power outages and and closing the road for hours. On Sunday night, an accident on Wilson Blvd caused downed wires and the closure of Wilson from N. Illinois to N. Jefferson Street. [WTOP]
Candidates: Lack of Diversity at Top County Ranks — Candidates for Arlington County Board spoke about the lack of diversity among top county staff last week, at a forum sponsored by the African-American Leadership Council of Arlington. The County Board has little direct involvement in the hiring of county staff, save the Board’s hiring of and direction to the County Manager. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Arlington’s Dept. of Real Estate Assessments will be giving representatives from countries like China, India, Turkey and Greece “guidance on proper property tax management, including an overview of how Arlington County values land and property, and how these processes have generated revenue, while promoting fair and equitable property tax collection methods,” according to a press release from Thomson Reuters, which organized the meeting.
Thomson Reuters’ Tax & Accounting Division helps corporations and governments improve their bookkeeping and revenue-generating practices. Arlington boasts an enviable tax revenue split of 50 percent residential and 50 percent commercial tax revenue, and the assessor’s office is responsible for determining the value of each piece of property.
“Arlington County’s strong, successful tax management system has attracted the attention of government officials from emerging nations,” Brian Jaklitsch, a spokesman for Thomson Reuters, said in an email.
“Officials will get a first-person look at how a government in the US processes and records land rights, and how the information is then used to assign a land value and then to process and bill property tax,” according to a press release. “More than 70 percent of local government revenue in the US is generated from property tax, and generating similar revenue could be a major coup for countries that are impoverished and/or lacking proper recording channels.”
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Schools are closed today, and Arlington County government offices and courts will be opening at 11:00 a.m.
Other county facilities also have delayed openings. Libraries, except for the Plaza library, are hoping open at 1:00 p.m., according to Arlington’s closing and delays page.
The Arlington Mill Community Center will open at 1:00 p.m., while other community centers will open at noon or later, as scheduled, according to the county.
After earlier saying that trash and recycling collection would happen today and Saturday, the county now says it has been cancelled.
Due to hazardous road conditions, all solid waste services have been canceled: brush, cart repair, collection, special collections, etc. We will resume collections on Monday, March 9. Thursday and Friday customers will be serviced on their next collection day. Carts should be removed from the right-of-way. The Customer Call Center will open at 11 a.m.
The federal government, meanwhile, is opening on a two hour delay.
We hear that county roads crews have been unable to fully treat some treacherous stretches of roadway this afternoon due to the salt shortage, leaving drivers stranded on hills and frustrating police officers trying to reopen roads where there have been accidents.
Jessica Baxter, spokeswoman for the Dept. of Environmental Services, confirmed the salt shortage in an email to ARLnow.com this evening.
It’s been a really rough winter season, not only in our region but across the nation. The County is experiencing end of season low inventory levels of salt. Stock piles from our regional contractor are near depleted. We received mid-season resupply, but it was not enough due to the severity of this winter. We’re doing everything we can to receive additional tons as soon as possible.
Crews are working around the clock and their primary effort will be to plow snow from the streets. We’ll use salt conservatively and supplement with sand.
The problem is apparently impacting some other jurisdictions in the region as well. Additional information from Baxter:
We utilize a regional contract [for salt]. Almost all salt in our region comes from the port of Baltimore. We believe all jurisdictions are working carefully to manage their remaining supply.
Arlington has two salt storage facilities, one north side and one south side. Our maximum capacity is about 8,000 tons. We start the season each year at full capacity and refill during the winter.
About 5-6 inches of snow has fallen on Arlington so far today, with the snowflakes beginning to taper off. The snow has caused numerous accidents, stranded drivers, temporarily blocked roads and even the GW Parkway, and forced businesses to close early.
Arlington Deputy Police Chief Jay Farr will serve as Acting Police Chief starting next month, following the retirement of Chief Doug Scott, according to a memo obtained by ARLnow.com.
Scott announced last month that he would retire effective March 20, after serving as Arlington’s police chief for 12 years. In a memo to police department employees sent Friday, County Manager Barbara Donnellan said Farr will fill in as chief while the county looks for a permanent replacement.
“I know many of you may also be wondering about leadership in the interim, and I am pleased to announce that I am appointing Deputy Police Chief Jay Farr as Acting Police Chief effective March 20, 2015 while we conduct our search,” Donnellan write. “Please continue to support him as you have Chief Scott. This time of transition is an opportunity for us to pull together and continue to work for the good of the community.”
“Thank you for your dedicated work in keeping our citizens safe; you provide a vital service for Arlington County,” Donnellan continued. “I will continue to keep you updated on the police chief recruitment as we continue this process together.”
Farr has served on the Arlington County police force since 1990, according to his LinkedIn page. Prior to working in Arlington, Farr was an NCIS special agent, a Falls Church police officer and a member of the Marine Corps’ presidential helicopter squadron. He is an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University’s Dept. of Criminology, Law and Society.
Farr spent several months away from the police department between 2013 and 2014, serving as an interim deputy county manager after Deputy County Manager Marsha Allgeier stepped down.
In the memo, Donnellan noted that the county will be “launching a nationwide recruitment for a new police chief in the next few days, and will be looking at both internal and external candidates.”
Photo via George Mason University
Update at 9:40 a.m. — Limited Metrobus service will start being restored at 10:30 a.m. Buses will operate under a severe snow plan.
The snow has stopped falling and some breaks of blue sky can even be seen above, but the impacts of the overnight snowfall are still being felt.
About 4-5 inches of snow fell on Arlington from Monday afternoon to this morning. Most roads are still snow-covered as county crews continue to treat primary and secondary routes. Neighborhood streets are largely untreated.
As the temperature remains very cold and even treated roads are slippery, VDOT is asking drivers to stay put for now.
“Drivers are urged to delay travel today until at least 10:00 a.m., as Virginia Department of Transportation crews continue working to clear and treat roads in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties,” VDOT said in a statement. “Interstates and major primaries are passable with extreme caution. Other roads were also plowed continuously overnight but still have a layer of snow and ice.”
The National Weather Service says the snow has ended, but is warning of hazardous travel conditions.
THE BULK OF THE PRECIPITATION HAS ENDED THIS MORNING… WITH ONLY LIGHT SNOW EXPECTED TO IMPACT AREAS EAST OF THE I-95 CORRIDOR THROUGH MID MORNING. SLIPPERY CONDITIONS AS A RESULT OF SNOW COVERED ROADS AND TEMPERATURES IN THE TEENS TO 20S WILL LEAD TO HAZARDOUS DRIVING CONDITIONS TODAY.
IF YOU NEED TO TRAVEL… PLEASE LEAVE SOME EXTRA TIME TO REACH YOUR DESTINATION AND USE CAUTION… ESPECIALLY ON ANY UNTREATED OR SNOW PACKED ROADWAYS.
Arlington announced early this morning that all county government offices, courts and facilities would be closed today. That’s in addition to the closure of county schools and the federal government.
There will be no trash and recycling collection in Arlington today.
“Collection services will resume when County offices reopen and will continue until all trash and recycling is collected,” according to the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services. “Until services resume, remove carts from the right-of-way to allow snow removal crews to clear the roads.”
Metrobus services has been suspended as of 7:30 a.m. Metrorail is running on a Saturday schedule. ART buses are running at “severe service levels.” MetroAccess is suspended Tuesday and Arlington STAR service is suspended except for dialysis rides.
Virginia State Police says troopers in Northern Virginia responded to 121 crashes and 122 disabled vehicles between 4:00 p.m. Monday and 4:00 a.m. Tuesday. A state police patrol car was struck by a car on the Capital Beltway just before 6:00 this morning, sending the trooper to the hospital.
VDOT says HOV restrictions have been lifted on I-66, I-395 and the Dulles Toll Road.
In part due to the low temperature, which prevents salt from melting snow, county and state crews are plowing roads and spreading a sand mixture. Many roads will remain snow-packed and will not be bare pavement as a result.
Arlington county offices, including libraries, the DMV select and the Department of Human Services, are closed tomorrow and Friday (Jan. 1-2), and parking enforcement officers will also be taking the day off.
The Circuit, General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts all close at noon today (Wednesday) and are closed the rest of the week. Arlington Public Schools won’t reopen until Monday, Jan. 5.
In addition to the courts, offices and schools, Arlington’s community centers will close at 5:00 p.m. tonight and not reopen until Saturday. The grounds of the parks will remain open, but all parks programming is cancelled.
Like last week, there will be no trash collection on Thursday, and those with Thursday curbside collection should leave their bins at the side of road by 6:00 a.m. on Friday, to be collected with the Friday routes. Some collection may bleed into Saturday, the county says.
Only ART buses 41 and 51 will be operating on New Year’s Day, on their Sunday schedules. Along with 41 and 51, routes 51, 77 and 87 will also operate on Sunday schedules on Friday.
All of the courts in the Arlington County Justice Center will be closed tomorrow, Dec. 24, and the DMV select will close tomorrow at noon.
Arlington Public Schools will also be closed on Dec. 24, and students won’t return to school until Monday, Jan. 5.
All county community centers and recreational classes are cancelled for Christmas and the day after, but parks grounds remain open at normal hours.
Parking will not be enforced on Dec. 25 or Dec. 26.
Those with Thursday trash and recycling collection will have their scheduled pushed back a day, and should put their cans on the side of the road by 6:00 a.m. on Friday. Those with Friday pickup will be on their normal schedule in all likelihood — because of the added workload, some houses might not see their trash picked up until 5:00 p.m. Saturday, according to the county.
Only ART buses 41 and 51 will be operating on Christmas Day, on their Sunday schedules. Along with 41 and 51, routes 51, 77 and 87 will also operate on Sunday schedules on friday.
There will be no parking enforcement on either day. Regular services and schedules resume on Saturday, and offices will reopen on Monday.
Flickr pool photo by Desiree L.C.
Hoskins was announced Friday afternoon as the successor to lead Arlington Economic Development after former director Terry Holzhiemer died of a heart attack in March. Holzheimer had led the department since 2005. Cindy Richmond has been serving as acting AED director in the interim.
Hoskins comes to Arlington after serving as Prince George’s County, Md.’s deputy chief administrative officer for Economic Development and Public Infrastructure. Hoskins started in that position on June 16 this year. Before working for Prince George’s, he was D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development from 2011 to earlier this year.
“Victor will bring a wealth of experience, creativity and dynamism to our team. He will be leading AED at a time of increased challenges and opportunities for Arlington,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a press release.
Hoskins has a long track record of working in D.C. and Maryland in both housing and economic development, serving as former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s cabinet secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development. From 2009-2011, he was the vice president of Quadel Consulting, a District-based affordable housing consulting and training firm.
“I’m excited to join the Arlington team, and look forward to marketing a County known across the nation as a leader in transit-oriented, sustainable development,” Hoskins said in a statement. “I can’t wait to be a part of this innovative government that holds itself to the highest ethical standards and promotes a healthy work-life balance.”
When Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker hired Hoskins in the spring, he told the Washington Post Hoskins “is someone who is known in the region as a person who is getting things done.”
Photo courtesy Arlington County